It’s Time to Change American Disease-Management into a Health-Fostering System
March 18, 2013
By Dr. Mercola
I’ve recently written a couple of articles about the exorbitant cost of medical care in the US, which is incompatible with the poor health outcomes of Americans at large.
Americans pay the most for but reap the least amount of benefits from their health care, compared to other industrialized nations. Overcharging and over-treating are two factors contributing to this enormous problem.
Andrew Weil, author of You Can't Afford to Get Sick: Your Guide to Optimum Health and Health Care, recently jumped into the fray with an article on CNN1 and a full one-hour long CNN documentary. The documentary is called Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare, which CNN premiered on March 10. Weil writes:
“The most insistent political question of the past four years has been: How can more Americans get access to medical care?
The federal response was the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Better known as 'Obamacare,' it is a complex mix of insurance changes and tax credits. When the act takes effect on January 1, 2014, it will provide access to insurance to about 30 million people who currently don't have it.
Unfortunately, that was the wrong question. So the looming 'answer' is wrong as well. Here's the right question: How can we improve medical care so that it's worth extending it to more people? In other words, how can we create a health care system that helps people become and stay healthy?”
Disease-Management versus Health Care
I could not agree more with Weil’s statement that the US does not have a health care system; we have a disease-management system.
It’s a system that is wholly dependent on expensive drugs and invasive surgeries, opposed to preventive measures and simpler, less expensive treatment alternatives. In short, it’s a system rooted in an ideal of maximized profits, opposed to helping people maintain or regain their health.
The majority of the diseases we’re trying to “manage” in this manner are lifestyle-related, and if you don’t address this root cause, you’ll never get better. You’re just paying for overpriced band-aids that do absolutely nothing to fix the underlying cause.
As Weil states:
“Making this system more accessible by passing costs to taxpayers will simply spread its failures more broadly.”
Like myself, Weil promotes integrative medicine (IM) as a better alternative to the current system. IM offers a combination of conventional medical therapies and complementary or alternative therapies "for which there is some high-quality scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness."
Placing greater emphasis on prevention, IM fosters long-term health, and when disease does set in, conventional drug and surgery approaches are used sparingly and/or as a last resort.
Our current system does the exact opposite. Drugs and surgery are employed FIRST, and then, when the patient has exhausted all conventional avenues, he or she will sometimes turn to alternative therapies or nutritional interventions out of sheer desperation, on their own (and at their own expense).
Frequently this is what ends up saving that person’s life... Unfortunately, many have been financially ruined by the time they’ve wound their way through the conventional system.
Escape Fire takes a deeper look at the problems inherent with our medical system; the cause of the problems and its devastating effects, and provides some hopeful solutions. Weil issued the following highlights from the film:
- The torturous journey of Sgt. Robert Yates, an injured veteran wounded in Afghanistan. He was prescribed a shopping bag full of prescription medications that left him broken and miserable in body, mind and spirit. Watching Yates begin to regain his health through gentle, low-cost therapies, including meditation and acupuncture, is profoundly moving.
- A look at the revolutionary Safeway Healthy Measures Program. It gives the supermarket chain's employees financial incentives for taking responsibility for their own health, decreasing Safeway's insurance costs significantly while improving participants' well-being.
- The dramatic story of Dr. Erin Martin, an Oregon primary care physician fed up with being pushed to treat patients faster and faster to boost clinic profits. She enrolled in the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine's Fellowship Program to find a better way, explaining that "I'm not interested in getting my productivity up -- I'm interested in helping patients."
Why the Affordable Health Care Act is Unlikely to Benefit Your Health
Last fall, I gave a presentation at Harper College, in which I discussed the Affordable Health Care Act, and why it’s likely to make matters far worse rather than better. It’s important to understand that guaranteed health insurance does NOT equate to guaranteed health care.
A major part of the problem is that the Act does not include any strategies designed to actually prevent illness. It also does not contain any measures to rein in or reduce out-of-control health care costs related to overcharges. Instead it expands an already flawed model of “care” that has been and continues to be a leading cause of both death and bankruptcy in the US.
- Americans spend twice as much on health care per capita than any other country in the world; in fact according to a series of studies by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co, the US spends more on health care than the next 10 biggest spenders combined: Japan, Germany, France, China, the U.K., Italy, Canada, Brazil, Spain, and Australia.
Despite that, we rank dead last in terms of quality of care among industrialized countries, and Americans are far sicker and live shorter lives than people in other nations
- A review of U.S. healthcare expenses by the Institutes of Medicine2 last year revealed that 30 cents of every dollar spent on medical care is wasted, adding up to $750 billion annually. Exorbitant hospital costs are a leading cause of this overspending
- According to a 2011 report by the global consulting firm Milliman, annual healthcare costs for the average American family of four, if covered by a preferred provider organization, is still a staggering $19,3933
- As opposed to other countries, American laws prevent the government from restraining drug prices. Federal law even prevents the single largest drug buyer - Medicare - from negotiating drug prices
- Overall, Americans pay 50 percent more than other countries for identical drugs. This year alone, the US will spend more than $280 billion on prescription drugs. If Americans paid the same prices other countries pay for the same products, we’d save about $94 billion a year
We Need a Whole New System of Medicine
When it comes to medical charges, you the buyer are completely separated from the seller or provider. There’s absolutely no market feedback to regulate and control the prices that are charged, whether they are related to medications or hospital/treatment charges. For the most part, drug makers and hospitals are allowed to charge as much as they want, which plays a large role on why these charges have gotten so outrageously out of control. This simply does not happen in countries outside of the US.
As a result, more than half, or approximately 60 percent, of all personal bankruptcies in the US are related to medical bills. Even more remarkably, the majority of those bankruptcies are among people WITH health insurance... Weil writes:
“The film [Escape Fire] takes its name from the practice of setting a small fire to clear out nearby brush, allowing a fast-advancing forest fire to pass by harmlessly. Will we be sufficiently clear-eyed and rational to take a similarly bold action to avoid disaster wrought by our dysfunctional health care system? I hope so. In the film, I say, 'The present system doesn't work, and it's going to take us down. We need a whole new kind of medicine.'"
This new system needs to address preventive strategies, and allow for less expensive, less invasive and more health-promoting alternatives as the first line of treatment. This automatically means reduced profits for the medical industry as a whole, but the pharmaceutical industry in particular would have to relinquish its grasp on its greatest cash cow, the American drug consumer.
When you consider how far Big Pharma has gone to manipulate the political system to its advantage, lobbying for laws to protect and bolster its profits even to the detriment of the country as a whole, this is not going to happen overnight. But you don’t have to wait for the system to change. You can take control of your own health in the meantime, and proactively work to protect not only your life but your pocketbook as well. At the end of this article, I will list a few of my top healthy lifestyle considerations, the most important of which is proper food choices.
Most of the Leading Causes of Death are Preventable
Still, there is light at the end of the tunnel because you CAN take control of your health - you don't have to listen to and abide by this system that makes and keeps you sick in order to make multinational corporations wealthy.
The majority of deaths are due to chronic, not acute, disease. And most chronic diseases, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, are largely preventable with simple lifestyle changes. Even infectious diseases like the flu can often be warded off by a healthy way of life. Just imagine the lowered death toll, not to mention costs to the economy, if more people decided to take control of their health … heart disease and cancer alone accounted for 47 percent of deaths in the United States in 2010, and there are many strategies you can implement to lower your risk of these diseases.
The added bonus to this is that the healthier you are, the less you will need to rely on conventional medical care, which is a leading cause of death. So what does a "healthy lifestyle" entail? The following is a short list of the basics expounded upon in my nutrition plan:
- Proper Food Choices
For a comprehensive guide on which foods to eat and which to avoid, see my nutrition plan. It's available for free, and is perhaps one of the most comprehensive and all-inclusive guides on a healthy lifestyle out there. Generally speaking, you should be looking to focus your diet on whole, ideally organic, unprocessed foods that come from healthy, sustainable, ideally local, sources.
For the best nutrition and health benefits, you will want to eat a good portion of your food raw. Nearly as important as knowing which foods to eat more of is knowing which foods to avoid, and topping the list is fructose. Sugar, and fructose in particular, can act as a toxin in and of itself when consumed in excess, and as such drive multiple disease processes in your body, not the least of which is insulin resistance, a major cause of accelerated aging and virtually all chronic disease.
For most people (although there are clearly individual differences), a diet high in healthful fats (as high as 50-70 percent of the calories you eat), moderate amounts of high quality protein, which is far less than the average amount most people eat, with the bulk of carbohydrates coming from vegetables and very low or no carbohydrates from grains and sugars, will set you on the right track toward health.
- Comprehensive Exercise Program, including High-Intensity Exercise
Even if you're eating the healthiest diet in the world, you still need to exercise to reach the highest levels of health, and you need to be exercising effectively, which means including not only core-strengthening exercises, strength training, and stretching but also high-intensity activities into your rotation. High-intensity interval-type training boosts human growth hormone (HGH) production, which is essential for optimal health, strength and vigor. I've discussed the importance of Peak Fitness for your health on numerous occasions, so for more information, please review this previous article.
- Stress Reduction and Positive Thinking
You cannot be optimally healthy if you avoid addressing the emotional component of your health and longevity, as your emotional state plays a role in nearly every physical disease -- from heart disease and depression, to arthritis and cancer. Effective coping mechanisms are a major longevity-promoting factor in part because stress has a direct impact on inflammation, which in turn underlies many of the chronic diseases that kill people prematurely every day. Meditation, prayer, energy psychology tools such as the Emotional Freedom Technique, social support and exercise are all viable options that can help you maintain emotional and mental equilibrium.
- Optimize Vitamin D with Proper Sun Exposure
We have long known that it is best to get your vitamin D from appropriate sun exposure during times when UVB rays are present. Vitamin D plays an important role in preventing numerous illnesses ranging from cancer to the flu.
The important factor when it comes to vitamin D is your serum level, which should ideally be between 50-70 ng/ml year-round. Sun exposure or a safe tanning bed is the preferred method for optimizing vitamin D levels, but a vitamin D3 supplement can be used when necessary. Most adults need about 8,000 IU's of vitamin D a day to achieve serum levels above 40 ng/ml, which is still just below the minimum recommended serum level of 50 ng/ml.
Be aware that if you take supplemental vitamin D, you also need to make sure you're getting enough vitamin K2, as these two nutrients work in tandem to ensure calcium is distributed into the proper areas in your body. Vitamin K2 deficiency is actually what produces the symptoms of vitamin D toxicity, which includes inappropriate calcification that can lead to hardening of your arteries.
While the ideal or optimal ratios between vitamin D and vitamin K2 have yet to be elucidated, Dr. Kate Rheaume-Bleue, author of Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox: How a Little Known Vitamin Could Save Your Life, suggests that for every 1,000 IU's of vitamin D you take, you may benefit from about 100 micrograms of K2, and perhaps as much as 150-200 micrograms (mcg).
Fermented vegetables can be a great source of vitamin K if you ferment your own using the proper starter culture. We recently had samples of high-quality fermented organic vegetables made with our specific starter culture tested, and a two to three ounce serving contained about 500 mcg of vitamin K.
- High Quality Animal-Based Omega-3 Fats
Animal-based omega-3 fat like krill oil is a strong factor in helping people live longer, and many experts believe that it is likely the predominant reason why the Japanese are the longest lived race on the planet.
- Avoid as Many Chemicals, Toxins, and Pollutants as Possible
This includes tossing out your toxic household cleaners, soaps, personal hygiene products, air fresheners, bug sprays, lawn pesticides, and insecticides, just to name a few, and replacing them with non-toxic alternatives.